Ideas for movies are everywhere: Video games, comic books, and Bruce Springsteen songs. But occasionally, filmmakers look to the real world for cinematic ideas. In these cases, the phrase "based on a true story" is often used, often regardless of how true to the real story the movies are. Still, it can be fun to watch a movie under the belief that the characters and events in it are at least remotely connected to how it really happened. Here are five such movies, for your viewing (and maybe even learning) pleasure.

"The Wrong Man"

Alfred Hitchcock was never known for his strict adherence to the facts, but in "The Wrong Man" he ditched his more fantastical instincts and told a true story in a harshly realistic fashion. That story contains one of Hitch's favorite themes: The wrongly accused (and in this case, convicted) man. But in his other movies dealing with the topic, the device is more of a vehicle for fun thrills, whereas in "The Wrong Man," it's part of a serious examination of a flawed justice system.

"In Cold Blood"

The Clutter murders shocked the entire country when they happened in 1959, just as Truman Capote's "non-fictional novel" on the subject shocked the literary world. This movie adaptation of Capote's novel is brutally realistic, sketching out the characters of the two killers—particularly Robert Blake as Perry Smith, in full detail. It's one of the few movies based on true stories that doesn't "clean up" what actually happened to make it easier for audiences to swallow—we see the killers carry out their brutal and completely senseless murders, and then we're made to (or almost made to, depending on your constitution) with them. That's the kind of thing that happens in real life, not in the movies.

"Bonnie and Clyde"

The bank-robbing pair of Bonnie and Clyde were folk heroes during their reign of, uh, terror(?) in the 1930s, so why wouldn't they eventually have a movie made about them? This movie is filled with true-to-life historical details, and even includes some actual bits of poetry written by Bonnie and sent to newspapers of the period. And the famous ending, which shows Bonnie and Clyde eviscerated by police officers' bullets, was perhaps the first scene in Hollywood history to show violence in such a realistic way.


Costa-Gavras' 1969 political thriller is a slightly fictionalized account of the 1963 assassination of Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis. How fictionalized? Consider the movie's famous disclaimer: "Any resemblance to real events, to persons living or dead, is not accidental. It is INTENTIONAL." As you can imagine, this was a highly controversial film due to its depiction of the fascist dictatorship of the Junta and its efforts to crush left-wing movements in Greece.

"Casualties of War"

It's pretty sad to imagine that the tragic rape and murder of a Vietnamese villager depicted in this war movie really happened, but it did. Which makes watching it all the more horrifying, as the audience's feeling of helplessness is amplified by the knowledge that the events seen actually took place. It's unknown whether one of the soldiers responsible was actually whacked in the face with a shovel, but it's still pretty satisfying to see Michael J. Fox do the same in the movie.